Thu | Jul 9, 2020

Into The Wild with Damion Whyte

Published:Tuesday | January 1, 2019 | 12:00 AM

There are a handful of careers that only the bold and courageous can embark on as a daily, testament to their dauntless character. From jumping into underground caves, wrestling with crocodiles and guiding baby turtles to the ocean, Damion Whyte, an Environmental Officer at the Urban Development Corporation, can be described as Jamaica's very own Steve Irwin.

Damion Whyte grew up on a small farm in Sandy Bay, Clarendon where his love affair for animals and the outdoors began. His childhood consisted of numerous outdoor activities which included transporting cows, exploring ponds and gathering fruits from trees for his grand parents in St. Mary. "I even found myself chasing game fowl and ducks and even helping out with the pigs and the goats. My childhood was a lot of fun," said Whyte as he reflected on his years as a gangly youth roaming the countryside.

After graduating from Glenmuir High, Whyte attending the University of the West Indies where he was introduced to the environmental world by Dr Dunbar Steel. "He believed that I had too much energy and it should be efficiently channeled. He brought me to Catherine Levy at Birdlife Jamaica where I was taken under the wings of Dr Peter Vogel," said Whyte. Vogul at the time was on of the top biologist in Jamaica whose work focused mainly on the rediscovery of the Jamaican Iguana. "He taught me most of what I knows today regarding birds and herpetofaunal. Without this mentorship, I would not have made it very far as an environmental scientist," said Whyte.

With Vogul's guidance Whyte was inspired to become a member of several environmental organisations including Birdlife Jamaica, Jamaica Institute of Environmental Professionals, Jamaica Cave Organization (JCO) and Natural History Society of Jamaica (NHSJ).

"The fun part of my job is being a terrestrial biologist," said Whyte who described the different outdoor locations as his office. "One minute I am doing a bat survey, the next I am in the wetland with the crocodiles ensuring their habitat is alright," he explained. Whyte also spends time doing research which involves setting camera traps in places such as goat island to observe the different animals which inhabit the island. "I also love taking young scientists into the field to do bird watching."he said.

In 17 years Whyte has made a significant impact in Jamaica's understanding of the endangered species on the island. He has conducted numerous projects which include surveys of the goat island and the Jamaican Iguana. "It is so amazing that we have an animal that can only be found in Jamaica. We are working on a number of conservation projects that aim to preserve its environment," he said.

Whyte and his colleagues from the UDC and UWI are currently working on removing the invasive species found on goat island such as the mongoose in order to introduce the Jamaican Iguana to the island. "It feels good to be a local biologist doing the work for the country. Majority of the time foreign biologist are called in to do the work," said Whyte with pride.

For him Jamaica is the land of wood and water and our tourism is heavily focused on the natural beauty of the island. He states that nature is what protects our environment and it is impossible to live without. "I feel like it is part of my duty to protect the environment. With my work I am part of the voice which showcases Jamaica's flora and fauna to the world. We put a lot of things on social media to make the whole scientific experience fun," said Whyte.

His biggest motivation comes from his PhD supervisor Dr. Eric Garraway. "He is very active in the environment. It motivates me to see the work that he has done especially for the Giant Swallowtail. I am also fully supported by my parents who are consistently proud of my work," said Whyte.

Whyte's achievements include being appointed as the youngest member of the Scientific Authority of Jamaica. He is also the chairman for the endangered species working group for NEPA. "I sit on the board of examiners for the electrical boards. I am also apart of a number of other environmental companies," he said. He was also was one of the 22 persons that was selected for CYPSEM which focuses on environmental development for developing countries. His achievements in the environment are numerous and his published papers are endless. "It is my point of duty to protect the environment and allow people to see parts of Jamaica that they would not be exposed to on a daily basis," explained Whyte,